Estamos in Chile.

We have arrived in Santiago, Chile, and I think I may know a bit of what it feels like to be a political wife. I´ve been doing a lot of smiling, nodding, kissing of cheeks and eating way more than I actually want to … as people celebrate the triumpant return of my husband.

Ned and I have been galavanting around S. America for the past ten days as part of a two-week vacation that has taken us to Buenos Aires, the snowy mountains of southern Argentina, the rainy mountains of southern Chile and Santiago. We´ll throw in a day trip to Valpairiso before we go and then stop over ever-so-briefly Lima, Peru on our way home (it was the cheapest way to get the flight).

The real heart of our trip is Santiago. Ned lived here for a while in college, working with an organization that helped abused women, living with a family, speaking Spanish and dancing the cueca. He formed quite a bond with the family and Chile while here, so I have been longing to visit his adopted pais.

We knew we would take some sort of vacation in August, as my office closes for a week. We weren´t sure where it would be (we´re facing lots of self-imposed pressure to front-load our marriage with fantastic trips before the ninos come along). But about a month ago we found some good airfare to S. America (thanks, LAN!), and it all came together. 

We wanted to come to Santiago to see his familia, of course. But Santiago is not exactly the most beautiful city in the world –my apologies to the good people of this town … but it just isn´t. So,  we added Argentina for the vacation appeal. Buenos Aires is like Europe on sale. The dollar may be weak right now, but the Argentine peso is even weaker, so it´s a pretty fanastic place to visit (especially if you, like me, really wanted to go to Italy but realized there is no way you could afford it). We´re talking espresso for a dollar, huge steaks for five bucks (or less) and really good wine for two dollars. Delicious. It´s silly, but I have to admit … I cried the first day we arrived in Chile. I was sad to leave Argentina.

But after spending several gray, rainy days in southern Chile, we came to Santiago. And the moment we pulled up to the family´s casa, I knew why we were here. I could hear Mama Luz´s shouts of joy from inside the house, as she realized her Prestito was back to visit. I cried again, this time tears of joy.

The familia Rivieros is wonderful. Mama Luz is the matriarch, with six adult children, a ton of grandchildren (ranging from about 10 years old to 20-something) and two great-grandchildren. They all live in Santiago. The family is exuberant and loving… meals seem to frequently break out in songs, chants, screams of laughter. It´s all in Spanish, so I can only understand half of what is going on (make that less than half). But even without language, I can feel the love. I see why Ned is so attached.

Even outside the family, my husband is a minor celebrity in this barrio. This is not a neighborhood that sees any tourists, and I think he is probably the only gringo in history to learn the national dance and compete in the local annual dance contest for the Fiestas Patrias, the national holiday. 

So my famous husband was asked to speak to the congregation at church yesterday, and then we made the rounds — hugging, kissing, admiring babies, and the like.

Ned is fluent in Spanish — in fact, Spanish-speakers often ask where he is from, because they don´t think an American could speak so well. I, on the other hand, am just learning the language. So I speak Espanol at about a toddler level. I can point and declare things proudly –hombres! los ninos beben leche! perro! perrito! gato! etc. But that´s about it so far. So, while Preston chatted it up with his gente, as the congregation rejoiced at the return of The Gringo Who Danced … I just smiled a lot.  Soy la political wife. (Succesful political wives do not point and shout like toddlers, alas.)

But really smiling wasn´t too hard. Mi esposa was with his hombres. And it was mui hermosa.